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Question time: Past President Rebecca Thompson

5 November 2018 | By Jamie Young

Winner of the Novus 10 anniversary competition, Jamie Young, won the opportunity to interview CIOB Past President, Rebecca Thompson. Here is an excerpt.

Was there a defining moment of your presidency?

Hearing the young scholars with the Worshipful Company of Constructors talking about 3D printing on the moon made me sit back and think “my goodness that could really happen”.

We are moving on at a pace with innovation. Giving a talk on heritage to young people from Winston Churchill’s office was quite incredible and overwhelming and a moment I won’t forget. Presenting to children who had entered a CIOB competition and who gave a presentation at Westminster was really brilliant because the MPs were so engaged with what we were doing as well.

That’s another thing the CIOB does so well – making an impact in policy and government. China was another amazing trip, I did that twice. I love China and what it is doing and the changes it is going through with heritage, inclusion and cultural changes and wanting to work with us in the West in construction. It was just a fascinating year.

Margaret Conway winning the CMYA awards last year was a defining moment for women in construction and diversity. How do you see us on that journey? Do you think we are making inroads now? 

It was such a fantastic moment and actually quite emotional that we had a really worthy female winner. There is a step change now as there are more female applicants. Personally I feel we still need more diverse applicants.

We are making inroads but not fast enough. We are not selling to women and young people that are making decisions about their career path. It’s not an easy sell as when you google images for construction manager, quantity surveyor or builder it often comes up with white men, hard hats, high vis and building sites and it doesn’t show the innovation and technology behind the scenes, people working flexibly and in offices or people being intelligent in finance.

We produced a diagram that showed that every career options leads to construction. Whatever you are good at in school it is tangible in the construction industry and we need to use that more. We need to get into schools and colleges and show people the options that are available.

“You need to go into schools more and influence at a younger age. It’s also about influencing teachers and parents too. There shouldn’t be barriers, people need to be brought up thinking they can do anything.”

Rebecca Thompson

How do you think we start to change people’s perception of the industry?

We lead by example, we celebrate success and we use the next generation, like Novus, who just think that racism and sexism is nonsense. I speak to young people and they say ‘well why would people act like that?’ We have got to encourage young people to show what is normal for their generation which is much more inclusive than my generation was.

What does Novus mean to you?

Every Novus group I have met has had energy, innovation and foresight. You are our barometer and we need to look to you as you are our future. You are coming in starting your careers and influencing and shaping the industry. We need to guide and mentor you as young people but we also need to learn from you.

We need to celebrate success that is happening now in inclusion and keep it normal that there are young women, LGBT and people of different origins working in the industry. Diversity is everything not just about women so we need to make it diverse in every sense.

How do you see Novus’s role developing in the next 10 years?

My advice would be that you do need to go into schools more and influence at a younger age. We do have Minecraft and MyKindaFuture which we can always do more with, but it’s also about influencing teachers and parents too. Approaching this category yourself, peer to peer, there shouldn’t be barriers, people need to be brought up thinking they can do anything. It could be helped by banning pink lego as this is a shocking thing they did for making it gender bias.

As a Novus group you could set your own KPIs and ask yourselves how diverse you are as a group. Are you targeting each area of diversity within your group and do you have representatives from every person that reflects every client you could serve. You could look at what more could be done at Members’ Forum.

If we are going to target young people could we think of a name of a group to get them in at young age (mini builders perhaps) so can start getting them interested. Perhaps an app/video game could be invented and used to get them in and as they are making decisions we can show them that whether they are interested in science, art or physical education every path leads to a career in the industry.

How important is it, to the CIOB and to the industry that we get the next generation involved? What are the repercussions if we don’t?

It is crucial. If we don’t get the next generation of professionals lined up then we will either lose a lot of our heritage or we will have other states and nations who will come in and have to build for us. We all need infrastructure to live in, to work, to go to school and hospitals so they need to be built and developed.

If we can’t do that in the UK then other countries will. It is really important that we continue to be leaders in UK; people see us as having good health and safety, knowledgeable and good qualifications that people can aspire to, like what is offered through the CIOB. We need to ensure that quality stays and is justified.

Jamie Young is senior design engineer for Wates and the chair of Cambridge Novus. Read the full interview at

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